John Locke: America’s Forgotten Founding Father

2083 words - 9 pages

John Locke is the most influential character in American history, thought, and practice. Without the influence of his writings, America would not have the same foundation of unalienable Rights, stable governance, and quality of life. However, Locke remains widely unknown and unstudied by the newer generations of Americans. His most influential work, the Second Treatises of Government, laid the ground, both theoretically and institutionally, for the American system of government that has been enjoyed for over two centuries. His influence on the American way of thinking is made evident when examining the text of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
In his treatise, Locke addresses the equality of all men. In order to correctly understand political philosophy, one must first understand the State of Nature man is born into, which is a state of perfect freedom. In the State of Nature, man has perfect freedom and is equal to all other men. Man’s freedom allows him to act as he pleases and to use or dispose of his possessions as he sees fit (Locke II.4). The freedom man enjoys is coupled with a state of equality, in which it is understood that all men entitled to the advantages of nature and the use of its resources. In the state of nature, no man has more “power or jurisdiction” (Locke II.4) than any other man. Although natural man is in a state of liberty, Locke takes great care to stress that man is not in a “state of license” (Locke II.6), for man is only free to act within the bounds of the law of nature (Locke II.4). The law of nature, which is reason, claims that because all men are “equal and independent,” and therefore, no man ought to cause harm to another man’s “life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke II.6). To establish the validity of his claim, Locke appeals to God’s ownership over all things, including mankind.
Locke’s views on equality laid a theoretical foundation for the institution of rights upheld in modern day America. The Founding Fathers incorporated Locke’s sentiment of freedom and equality in the Declaration of Independence. Near the beginning of this unanimous declaration of freedom from tyranny, the Founders held to the “self-evident” truths that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their creator” the “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (US 1776). Although Locke’s ideas on equality and freedom were in included in the Declaration of Independence, they were not fully embraced in the original Constitution, as made evidenced by the multiple provisions protecting the institution of slavery (US Const., art. I, sec. 2; art. I, sec. 9; art. IV, sec. 2). However, the many compromises made on the issue of slavery in Constitution helped to pave the way for the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, which granted equal rights and protection of the law to all citizens in the United States (Bill of Rights, Amdt. XIV). Over a century after the...

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